A highly dynamic duo

Premium AEROTEC’s Varel plant in North Germany produces highly complex machining components made of aluminium and titanium using one of Europe's most advanced pool of machines.

And this pool has recently been boosted by a new, highly dynamic duo: A Starrag ECOSPEED F 2040 FMS (Flexible Manufacturing System) consisting of two linked machining centres.

It was almost 20 years ago that Europe’s largest aircraft manufacturer fi rst took a chance on the parallel kinematics of the ECOSPEED product lines – a technology that was revolutionary at the time. Thanks to highly dynamic 5-axis simultaneous cutting with a tripod head, these machines still set the benchmark for machining large, complex aluminium structural components today, especially in the aviation industry. 

Daily tasks include cutting pocket corners with an only slightly inclined land, which requires the angular position to be changed. While standard fork-type milling heads typically make huge swivel movements to do this, parallel kinematics are significantly faster and more dynamic. This is one of the main reasons why 13 ECOSPEED centers are now in use at the Varel site.

“In addition to their reliability, it was the high overall dynamism of the ECOSPEED machines that won us over”, explains Christian Welter, Head of Large-Part Production at Premium AEROTEC. “This is why we chose two ECOSPEED F 2040 machines as our latest investment, which have been linked to create a flexible manufacturing system.” This is the newest highlight of Hall 8, where Starrag machining centers with a drive power of 161 hp currently take center stage. Having a large number of similar centers makes it easier to train staff, operate the machinery and perform maintenance, explains Welter, but with each new investment, Starrag and its Ecospeed product lines must once again face the competition. He adds: “In this tender, we once again saw that the dynamism of the machine is still in a league of its own. But despite this, in the future we will continue to explore other options on the market.”

A new angled milling head that can be changed automatically now enables aluminum workpieces measuring up to four meters long to be machined on the FMS – not just completely but in a single clamping position too. Flexibility is a must, since the aircraft manufacturer currently machines 700 different components on its ECOSPEED machining centers alone, for clients including Airbus and the European Space Agency (for Ariane 6).

What’s more, this investment in new, even more productive technology is happening in a production environment that is currently undergoing big changes. “This is a permanent construction site”, says Welter, smiling. “More and more sensors are being built into the machines, which generate a lot of data. We’re currently in the process of learning how to handle and utilize this huge quantity of data”. One of the key aims of digitalizing production is to allow the process to be carried out with only a few operators, or even no operators at all. 

The new Starrag manufacturing system complements this strategy perfectly because the Varel plant has recently switched to using linked systems. “We want to keep set-up separate from actual machining”, says Welter. “And this works extremely well with the new ECOSPEED F 2040 FMS, where we have operators work at separate set-up stations”.

The Varel plant has been pursuing digitalization for a long time now, since before the term “Industrie 4.0“ was even coined. Consequently, the company has a systematic focus on networking. “For example, we don’t have any standalone Starrag machining centers; they are all networked or linked to each other”, explains Welter. “There is also the factor of security of supply, which we must be able to offer as a manufacturer of Airbus components. This is why, next to each machine, there’s another one that can perform the same tasks”.

So why not adopt robot handling? “The FMS currently machines 40 different components, which means we would have needed 40 actuators for the workpiece holder”, explains Welter. “It also became apparent that the robot would be stationary most of the time. A cobot system would be an interesting way of facilitating set-up here. We are already robotising certain areas of small parts manufacturing, however”. It is difficult for Welter to quantify the impact that Starrag’s claim “Engineering precisely what you value” has had on his machine pool. The new investment has not been used for series production for long, he says, but its running time is 10% to 15% shorter than that of older ECOSPEED systems. 

Machine availability plays an equally big part in production at Varel, and it all comes down to manufacturer support. “Overall, we are extremely happy with the service that Starrag offers compared to that of other manufacturers”, says Welter. “We’ve developed an excellent relationship with staff at Starrag over a very long period of time. In particular with regard to certain companies, where, due to rebranding, it’s not always clear who’s responsible for what”. 


Starrag ECOSPEED F 2040 FMS